Stories That Inspire: Dead Ends and Brick Walls—Some Tips and Tricks That Just Might Help

Brick Wall 3

Sometimes, finding new information on an ancestor may seem like quite a challenge. Situations that appear to be dead ends and brick walls don’t need to stay that way. Instead of trying to push further and further back on a family line, progress may come by learning more about the family and extended family. By learning a few techniques I’ve developed over the years, you might just be able to help others, or yourself, get around those dreaded dead ends and brick wall barricades!

A few weeks ago a friend showed me his McClure family in FamilySearch Family Tree. He is stuck on his paternal line with a man who was born about 1809 in Tennessee and died in Illinois in 1874. Although McClure was not an extremely common name in the area, there were enough around to make the research a little difficult. He had already attached each US census of 1850, 1860, and 1870 as sources in Family Tree. Finding a person in each census taken during his or her lifetime often reveals information that might be missed without this attention to detail. My friend was off to a good start but not sure how to discover more.










Look for Discrepancies

Looking at the census details from 1850 and the information added to the Thomas McClure Family Tree, we noticed some discrepancies. Two daughters listed in Family Tree were born two and four years before the parents married. Seeing one child born a little early isn’t unusual, but to have two children born before the parents’ marriage raises some questions. The 1850 census also showed two girls living with the family who had a different surname. It looked like the marriage in 1844 listed on FamilySearch Family Tree may have been the second one for both Thomas and his wife. That was a big clue.

Check Marriage and Death Records

A general search of all collections on FamilySearch for a marriage of Thomas McClure in Kentucky revealed a few possibilities. To be sure which marriage really fits this family, we then checked the death certificates for each of Thomas McClure’s children for the mother’s name and maiden surname. Death records before 1900 are less likely to include the mother’s name. Some states or countries included different information in different time periods. The death or burial information is still worth obtaining regardless of the time period. This approach can be especially helpful if tombstone and other graveyard records are also available for searches.












Use FamilySearch Record Hints

Next we looked at the details page for each child—it is easy to click on the Record Hints or Search Records links on the right side of the FamilySearch individual records page to see if a marriage or death record is available. In this case, it was necessary to find the marriage of daughters first since death records are normally indexed by a woman’s married surname.

We were not able to find all of the marriage and death records for the Thomas McClure family. Some of the deaths that were found did not include parent’s names. By checking for the death record of each of Thomas’s children, however, we found the youngest daughter’s death certificate showing her mother’s maiden surname and birthplace. It also showed her father’s name and his birthplace. This proved to be a huge breakthrough.










 Don’t Give Up

The details in Ella McClure’s death certificate about her father were recorded fifty years after Thomas died and more than one hundred years after his birth. So, next we verified this information by searching additional records such as birth, marriage, and death or burial records in Kentucky. The exciting thing for us was that new records have been posted and new searches can now be made for additional information. That’s the beauty of FamilySearch; close to a million new records are posted online every day, so keep checking!

Go Back to the Records

There are many times when people are stuck with their genealogy and a few basic searches can change everything. FamilySearch makes it simple to do many of the basic searches for an individual and his or her family members.

Start with census, birth, marriage, and death records. The death records are often neglected. One genealogy guru tells people that the first thing they should do is find death information for their ancestor. The reason for this is that information about parents may be included. It is also productive to work back in time from the latest event in a person’s life. Important clues will be found along this path.

In many countries, individuals and families can be found in census records with a small amount of effort thanks to online indexes. Once you get the family in the earliest available census, finding more information may get a lot more difficult. In the United States, the 1850 census is the earliest one that names everyone in a home. Vital records kept by the state or county are very helpful, although more indexing is needed to improve the ability to find individuals—but don’t overlook these important documents.


By branching out to find details for all of the children rather than just the direct line, we were able to find extremely useful information that pointed to new places to search. This new information added to and enhanced what was already in FamilySearch Family Tree, strengthened what was known about the Thomas McClure family, and broke through a dead end. More searches can still be done, especially on Thomas’s two oldest daughters. I am anxious to visit my friend and together discover more about his family. Try some of these tips—you’ll be amazed at the doors that will be opened when you just take the time to try them!


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